How NOT to Spend Your Layover in Amsterdam

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We stopped in Amsterdam on our recent trip to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by timing our flights to have a 10-hour layover.


On our way there. This was a bad call, and not something you should do. Here’s why.

Having never been to the city, we jumped at the chance to spend a layover in Amsterdam, not really considering we’d be coming off a 9-hour trans-Contilantic (trans-contilantic = trans-continental + trans-Atlantic), compounded by a nine hour time difference. Sometimes we’re I’m stupid like that.

The city is set-up for layovers, so theoretically a layover in Amsterdam shouldn’t be a problem. Our bags were checked through all the way through to Tallinn, but we wanted to ditch some of our carry-on items, not seeing much reason to carry around our inflatable pillows and the latest edition of Real Simple magazine. Once we cleared immigration and customs, we stored our superfluous items in a locker and set out, still bright eyed with the excitement that comes with exploring a new place, and unaware of the fogginess and ineptitude that would hit our tired brains an hour later.

Amsterdam city centre is about a 20 minute train ride from Schipole, and you can buy your tickets before or after clearing customs — if you do it before, press the “more options” button, or it will force you into a first class ticket, which isn’t unaffordable at 7 Euros, but is unnecessary for a 15 minute train ride.

We reached Amsterdam Centraal and followed the throngs of people south to Dam Square. At least I think it was Dam Square, I really have no idea.


Amsterdam Canal
Not pictured: Geoff, who was cracking up at my crappiness


From there we took a left and walked toward Amsterdam’s famous canals. I stopped to take a picture, and was promptly crapped on by a passing bird.


Amsterdam Canal
Not pictured: Geoff, who was cracking up at my crappiness


Not wanting to be obvious about the bird crap, I took a few more photos and then walked over and had Geoff confirm my suspicions. For some reason, we decided to ignore the bird crap for a while and continue our exploration, which allowed me to take several more underexposed canal and street scene photos.


Canal in Amsterdam
This is the best I could get after editing

What I never realized about Amsterdam was just how many canals there are. I’d heard people talk about the canals — plural — of Amsterdam, but had for some reason always imagined it to be like Ottawa, with one single canal running through the centre. But no! They are everywhere!
And really quite lovely, although we imagined them to be rather hazardous to the numerous drunken revelers who roam the city at night (and during the day), as there aren’t any safety rails.

We wandered unexpectedly into Amsterdam’s red light district, which was rather quiet being 10 am on a Sunday morning, but still contained enough plastic surgery gone awry to shock me awake, if only temporarily. I found the red light district kind of…NASTY. I’m a huge leftie: I think controlled prostitution would do wonders to reducing the spread of STDs and violence against the (mostly) women who often have no other choice but to sell their bodies, but seeing it up close? It grossed my prudish Canadian self out. And the swarms of people — many of whom were already sucking back Heineken — walking by and gawking at them? It gave me the no feeling (And yes, I understand the irony of that sentence, given that WE were also gawking).

After our very brief introduction to the pros and cons of sex tourism, we decided it was finally time to wash the bird crap off my dress, and wandered aimlessly and increasingly deliriously through the streets until a cafe chair ran into us, forcing us to sit. The abundance of cafes in Amsterdam certainly belongs in the pros category (along with canals, bicycles, and punny signs).


Sidewalk Cafe in Amsterdam
We came back to this cafe a few hours later for a coffee


A Cafe Front in Amsterdam
If the menu is to be believed, I suppose this is a bar, not a cafe. It’s still lovely though!

The cafe we found was canal side, and it was a magical place with strong cheese and pancakes dusted in powdered sugar.


In your FACE, De Dutch Pannekoek House!
In your FACE, De Dutch Pannekoek House!


At this point, I started to feel so tired that breathing seemed to be too much of an effort, and so we wandered until we found a patch of grass, and passed out for two solid hours.


Man sleeps in Amsterdam park
I lied. Geoff passed out for two hours. I tossed and turned for an hour, and then got up to play with our new camera. Sigh.


And that, my friends, is pretty much the entire story of our stopover in Amsterdam: bird crap, pancakes, and naps. After this photo was taken, we hobbled our way to the afore pictured cafe for a coffee, and then back to Amsterdam Centraal, where we caught a train to Schipole. Thankfully, I got a blissful hour of undisturbed sleep, stretched out across 5 seats at the gate before our flight to Tallinn.

Would I do an Amsterdam stopover again? In a heart beat. But next time, I’ll schedule it for the way home, after we’ve already adjusted to the time difference.

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9 thoughts on “How NOT to Spend Your Layover in Amsterdam”

  1. Amsterdam in a day: quite ambitious! Running into the red light district accidentally always has the power to shock… and perhaps appall. I couldn’t imagine running into it during the day; it’s unsavoury even in the shadows. It’s a shame that so many people associate Amsterdam so freely with these images. Beyond its infamy it’s actually a really pleasant place!

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    I actually do consider many of the suggestions you’ve provided on your own article. They are really effective and might unquestionably work. Nevertheless, the posts are too small first off. Might you you should stretch these people somewhat coming from the next occasion? Thanks for the post.

    1. Ha! Yes – this was so long ago :) Thankfully we’ve been back and have since spent about 6 weeks in Amsterdam on two different trips. We look back at this trip and definitely laugh…we were SOOOOOOOO tired!

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